On Sunday (well before Thanksgiving, smh) during the premiere of the British X-Factor, PayPal premiered a new Christmas-themed ad in the UK. The commercial shows two woebegone brothers lamenting over the prospect of a present-less Christmas.
One brother tells the other:
I have bad news Toby. I don't think we're getting any Christmas presents this year. Have you noticed how mum and dad have been around so much lately? Normally this time of year, they're out shopping.
But—surprise—this won't be a Dickensian Christmas after all. When Toby and his brother run down the stairs on Christmas morning, there are indeed presents under the tree. As Toby and his brother gallop toward the gifts, the words, "Check out before they know it," appear on the screen. Then we see the happy parents buying gifts online.
This is a fine reminder to adults that online shopping is quick and easy, and can make it easier to keep the holiday spirit alive by spending time with their kids instead of shopping for them, etc.
But for kid viewers, the ad sends a pretty clear message: There is no Santa. There are only your parents (and PayPal!), who sneak around behind your back and make up excuses to secretly pretend they are Santa. In other words, Christmas is a sham.
This secondary message has made British parents very, very mad at Paypal. According to the Guardian, "The Advertising Standards Authority has received 233 complaints that the advertisement is offensive for ruining Christmas and is inappropriately scheduled on TV."
An ASA spokesperson told me by email that "the general nature of the complaints are that the ad is offensive because it implies that Father Christmas doesn’t exist and that it’s inappropriate to be shown at a time when it could be seen by children." He added, emphasis mine, "the complaints have only just come in and we are currently assessing them. No decision has been taken on whether there are grounds for an investigation."
So it's not impossible that the UK's advertising watchdog could probe PayPal for heavily implying that (spoiler alert) Santa isn't real.
PayPal, for its part, has defended—and apologized for — the commercial. In a statement, director of PR for Paypal UK Rob Skinner explained that, according to his research, even children who believe in Santa know that under-tree gifts are from parents:
Some people have been upset by the ad as they think that by focusing on the presents bought by mum and dad it suggests that Santa doesn’t exist. That was never our intention. Before we made the ad, we asked people from different parts of Britain about the idea behind it. The feedback was that presents around the tree were typically seen as being from family and friends, while those in the stocking at the end of the bed came from Santa. And quite a few of us involved with the ad campaign have small children, so we’d never do anything that might challenge the existence of Father Christmas.
[Ed. note: ………………..]
We take feedback from our customers seriously, and don’t want to be seen as Scrooge. So we’ve made arrangements for this ad only to air after 9pm, the ‘watershed’ after which it is assumed that young children won’t be watching.
A PayPal representative assured me over email that the ad will not appear in the U.S.
This is not, believe it or not, the first time that PayPal has been accused of killing Christmas. So good luck getting right with Santa.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.